The timing of the Madrassa controversy courted by Maharashtra government is eyebrow raising (during the holy month of Ramzan/d and especially the ongoing reports of scams from the state).
However, the question itself, away from any political ramification, that whether or not students of religious institutions can be considered ‘educated’ is a relevant one. Education, in India, needs a broader debate than a bickering over its lack or presence of religiosity.
Let’s start with basics
Although there are various definitions and meanings of “Education” but a subtle similarity running parallel in all of them is the functionality of education to draw out the best in a human, to make her be her best self.
Education, whether religious or secular, would mean nothing if it fails to give a student the key to unlock her potential. If the kind of education given to someone with an artistic bent of mind does not nurture her creativity, it is a waste. Similarly if an education system smothers a student with a spiritual bent of mind, it is doing her more harm than good.
Viewing education thus, makes it ‘un-educational’ in most of its present forms in India today. The Xerox photocopy machine that works in the name of education today assembling and exporting armies of doctors, engineers and MBA graduates is good at just one thing, creating copy, after copy, after copy.
Non-religious education in India
With all due fairness, if the point of contention is shifted from religion to actual learning in this debate, then most government schools with pathetic infrastructure and unqualified/absent teaching staff are more non-educational than any madrassa.
A UNESCO’s International Institute of Educational Planning study said that 25 per cent teacher absenteeism in India is among the highest in the world. Add to this the fact that only 5 per cent of teachers in government schools hold only Bachelor or Master’s degrees, while 13 per cent have only secondary or higher secondary certification, without any teacher qualification, and you know the educational level of the unfortunate students ‘studying’ in these schools.
Even the education in private schools, where 40 per cent of young India studies are systems which do not promote a free thinking, critically inquisitive environment. At best they act as laboratories where rats of the future are trained on the hamster wheels of today.
The medium of instruction is mostly English and the knowledge imparted creates an absurdity of an individual, too Western to understand and survive in 80 per cent of India and too backward to be taken seriously in the west.
Both these forms of educational institutes are in no way unlocking anyone’s potential. They are just creating a barely skilled workforce.
Religious institutes in India
Declaring religious institutions ‘un-educational’ by the Maharashtra government is a classic example of pot calling the kettle black. However, this doesn’t mean that religious educational institutions in India have not paved their own way to hell with good intentions.
Madrassas and Maths have had their names drawn into controversies over fundamental violence. Their cringing repulsion at the name of change has made them stick to courses best suited for someone from medieval times.
Although questions on their relevance have been raised a lot of times, as it is being done now, these do not take into account a very important factor that distinguishes religious from non-religious educational institutes. If the later deals with or ought to deal with improving potential in worldly matters, the former is geared towards or ought to be gathered towards increasing potential in knowing oneself, of matters more metaphysical.
Among all the horrors modernity has made humans suffer, it has its positive aspects too. And one of its blessings is increasing possibilities.
While a debate depending on the stance taken by a contender, can be stretched, pulled and twisted in any way, one thing that remains true to all issues is that not all contentions are like apples and oranges. The grey area is where the answers usually lie.
Ignoring religious education as un-educational is nothing less than throwing the baby out with the bath water and claiming that the other kind is a model of perfection, is again, barking up the wrong tree. The present focus should be on increasing the possibilities for the students, despite what kind of education they choose. A boy studying in a madrassa should be qualitatively as ‘educated’ as a girl studying in a government school.
Major reforms are needed for both religious and state-run educational institutes in the country and politics should be the last factor to base them on.